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BIOGRAPHIES

LASALLE, Charles


Charles Lasalle was born in Metz on 10 May, 1775. In 1791, he became sous-lieutenant in the 24e de cavalerie but resigned in 1792 and came to Paris. There, he signed up as a volunteer in the Section des Piques, a "district" in Paris during the Revolution (each district was made up of a civil committee, a revolutionary committee and an armed force). From there he entered the Armée du Nord and into the 23e régiment de chasseurs à cheval. As Kellermann's protégé, he became a lieutenant and aide-de-camp to this highly experienced general. He followed Kellermann into the Armée des Alpes before becoming captitaine-adjoint in the Armée d'Italie, under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte. He distinguished himself for the first time as part of a trooper group working behind Austrian lines. Discovering important intelligence, he barely escaped from an Austrian group of hussars before returning to Napoleon with the information. Napoleon, in recognition, named him chef d'escadron.
 
He also distinguished himself at the Battle of Rivoli where he led a cavalry charge, clearing an important plateau of enemy forces. Napoleon would later say "It was Masséna, Joubert, Lasalle and I who won the Battle of Rivoli." He proceeded to Rome where he would meet Josephine d'Aiguillon, who although at the time was wife of Léopold Berthier, would later marry Lasalle.
 
In 1798, he accompanied Napoleon on the campaign to Egypt. He was the hero of the Battle of the Pyramids and was named chef de brigade and commander of the 22e chasseurs. He was involved in combat at Salalieh and participated in the Desaix division's odyssey-like journey through the Nile valley. He returned to France with his reputation firmly established and received an honorary sword and pistol set. It is at this time that he remarked "Any hussar who is not dead at thirty is a good-for-nothing."
 
As colonel of the 10e hussars, he founded the "Société des Altérés" (a drinking club of sorts in which it was forbidden to say that one was not thirsty) and was involved in numerous escapades. In February 1805, he was named général de brigade and commandeur in the Légion d'honneur. At Ulm, he commanded the dragoons, but soon returned to take charge of the 5e and 7e hussars. This brigade became infamous and was known as the "infernal brigade", a nickname earned during the pursuit of the routed Prussian army following Jena. A Zehdenik, he broke through the Dragons de la Reine, the elite Prussian cavalry, and captured their standard. At Prenzlow, he and his five-hundred men were at the forefront of the fighting. They also succeeded in capturing the heavily fortified town of Stettin through trickery, claiming to be at the head of a far greater advancing army and forcing the ten thousand-odd troops to surrender. This ruse won Lasalle great acclaim and renown in France. They continued as far as Lübeck, forcing Blücher to surrender. They also fought in Poland; at Golymin, his hussars became caught up in the torrential mud, and Lasalle forced his troops to endure an hour of heavy Russian fire, himself stationed at their head. This punishing episode would enter into folklore.
 
He was next named général de division, and organised the light cavalry at Elbing. At the messy Battle of Heilsberg, he saved Murat's life, before the latter reciprocated moments later. He was afterwards made Comte de l'Empire and Chevalier de la Couronne de Fer. By this point, he had reached and passed the thirty-mark.

He was involved in the Spanish campaign of 1808 from the beginning. French mistakes led to the Dos de Mayo uprising and general upheaval and he distinguished himself at the Battle of Medina del Rio Seco on 14 July, 1808. This spectacular victory was however cancelled out by the disaster at Bailén during which Dupont surrendered. Napoleon was forced to rush to Spain himself and install his brother Joseph on the throne. Lasalle participated in the fighting at Burgos whilst Napoleon was called away due to the mounting threat in Austria.
 
Lasalle was named Grand officier of the Légion d'honneur and fought alongside Victor in Andalusia. His advance-guard regiment fell into a Spanish ambush and the wounded were executed, an episode known as "the bloody check". Lasalle would have his revenge at the Battle of Medellin where the Spanish suffered huge losses of about eight thousand dead or wounded and two thousand captured. Napoleon, in need of his best generals in Austria, recalled Lasalle from Spain and on to the Austrian front.
 
Lasalle arrived in Austria just before the Battle of Essling, which took place between 21 and 22 May. There, he led a number of cavalry charges in an effort to break through the centre. He was eventually successful, but the losses were substantial, including Maréchal Lannes, who was mortally wounded during the fighting.
 
From there, he continued to fight along the Danube towards Raab, where the Viceroy of Italy, Eugène de Beauharnais, was arriving from Italy. At the Battle of Wagram, he led a charge of cuirassiers supporting General MacDonald, in doing so receiving a bullet to the forehead. He was killed instantly. In a letter to his wife, written just before the battle, he wrote:
 
"My heart belongs to you
My blood to the Emperor
And my life to honour."
 
Source: Dictionnaire Napoléon (tr. & ed., with permission, H.D.W.)

 
     
 
 

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